Tasmanian Devil and SuperbugsIt's been almost ninety years since Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In the early years of antibiotics, the drugs were deemed miracles that could save young and old from illnesses that just years prior had been life-threatening. Since then, antibiotics have begun showing up everywhere: in hand soaps, household cleaning supplies, and the ever popular hand sanitizer.
Recently, however, more and more people have become weary of antibiotic use. Why? In a word: superbugs. These antibiotic resistant bacteria have put certain illnesses back in the "life-threatening" category. Antibiotics that once killed bacteria are either no longer effective, or less effective. People are being subjected to harsher antibiotics or multiple rounds of medication. Superbugs have come into existence mainly because of the overuse of antibiotics. For years, doctors have prescribed antibiotics to treat common flu and cold symptoms which, in many cases, aren't even caused by bacteria.
According to The International News, there are now drug resistant strains of TB, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and MRSA. In fact, according to this source, over 480,000 people each year are diagnosed with a drug resistant strain of tuberculosis. The problem is so serious that the US government has made finding a solution one of its highest priorities.
In this tense period of time, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Researchers are working around the clock to come up with a solution. According to Dr. Larry Madoff, who is the director of Immunization and Epidemiology at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, it is not the goal of researchers to simply find different antibiotics to treat the superbugs. In an interview with Fox News, Dr. Madoff said that he, his colleagues, and researchers around the world are trying to find alternatives to antibiotics.
A recent study has found that the human race's hope against superbugs may lie with one of Tasmania Island's most famous animals, the Tasmanian devil. CBS News reported that scientists have been studying the devil's genome and found six peptides that have qualities that make them effective in killing superbugs. The peptides are found in the milk of the Tasmanian devil. It is thought that these compounds are needed to keep the young marsupials healthy.
Devil pups are born at a very early stage in their development. Once born, they spend the rest of the time necessary to mature in their mother's pouch. During this time, they feast on their mother's milk which keeps shape the baby's immune system. Scientists replicated the peptides and tested them against some superbugs in a laboratory setting. One of the most exciting findings: the ability of the peptides to kill MRSA.
MRSA is a strain of staph infection that is especially resistant to nearly all antibiotics. It is estimated that one in three people have this type of staph in their body. For the most part, the bacterium is non-threatening; that is, of course, until it enters the bloodstream. In that case, it can become deadly. That is why it is imperative to find a solution—people's lives are at stake. One estimate is that ten million people could die each year from superbug infections by 2050.
According to CBS News writer Ashley Welch, the United Nations has "pledged a global effort" to help find a solution. Doing nothing is simply not an option; and relying even more on antibiotics could just lead humans down this same path again in a generation or two. Now, with researchers finding solutions from unusual sources—like the famed Tasmanian devil—it looks like there is hope for humans in the fight against superbugs.